After Modernity


Charles Lemert



Summary By

Sonja E. Kelly


  • The years 1979 and 1980 were, while filled with historic events, not necessarily cohesive in theme. However, many claim that this time stands as the end of modernity—or, rather, when people began discussing post-modernity.
  • The bookends of these critical years are: 1968 and 1989-1990.
  • Postmodernism does not claim progress, but rather it attempts to exist outside of time (or within all of time in an interesting mix of past, present, and future), seeing disconcerting humor in the way that we interact in the social sphere (he holds up the AT&T building as an example of this).
  • Giddens holds that postmodernism is “about fragmentation, the dissolution of the self, the uncertainty of any theory of knowledge” (quoted in Lemert 454).
  • In postmodernism, there is not necessarily a basis for ultimate authority. Lemert questions what effect this has on the continuing modernism/postmodernism debate: if there is no arbiter, then how will we decide which side wins? Neither can agree on the terms of the debate.
  • It is as if we lost our frame of reference on which modernity was dependent. The US, for example, defined itself as not the Soviet Union, but with the end of the Cold War, there was no such frame of reference, and we have not been able to find one since.
  • However, while postmodernism would not necessarily approve of such a statement, there are real world events and a real timeline on which we can pin the postmodernist movement.
  • A large part of postmodernism is a focus on culture and perspective. Ultimately, we may not know what group or individual will have the power at the end of the discourse, but we must acknowledge that everyone deserves a place at the table.
  • A critical question to ask is: What does this author believe about the Center? The answer to that question is the determinant of who is postmodernism (and, accordingly, what postmodernism looks like applied).
  • Lemert ends with this: “Whether postmodern or not, today’s world seems to be a place in which, in the absence of Progress and Final Truths, people must tell the stories they have to tell. In so doing, they tell themselves and their worlds into reality. It is possible that all men and women are social theorists in this sense” (464).

Discussion points

  • Is claiming that there is no Progress and Final Truth simply a re-framing of the Center?
  • Lemert makes a distinction between, for example, postmodernists and radical or left modernists. Is his characterization of the differences fair? Is it possible, instead, to conceptualize the differences as a spectrum rather than as a collection of categories?
  • Lemert’s last statement is provocative. Does the postmodern project (elucidated and perpetuated by academics) undermine the social science discipline?